While the performance of referee Anthony Taylor (an “Altrincham fan” from Wythenshawe, apparently) was enough to drive anyone to despair, City’s injury-time implosion was fairly spectacular by any measure.
Sergio Aguero’s wild lunge at David Luiz, followed by Fernandinho’s push on Cesc Fabregas, who fell comically, WWE-style, over an advertising hoarding, resulted in red cards for both.
In the context of the game, it was almost an irrelevance, occurring in the 96th minute when the Blues were already well beaten.
However, such ill-discipline could prove costly in the long-term, with Aguero facing a four-match ban while Fernandinho will miss the next three games. City don’t so much shoot themselves in the foot, as blow it clean off with a pump-action shotgun at times.
Pep Guardiola’s side hadn’t actually played that badly, but not for the first time this season a combination of poor finishing and calamitous defending cost the Blues dearly.
City had deservedly led 1-0 at the break, courtesy of a Gary Cahill own goal, and should have wrapped the game up in the second half when Kevin De Bruyne somehow contrived to miss an open goal from two yards out. It proved to be a pivotal moment in the match.
Games often hinge on the tightest of margins, and what should have been a two-goal lead for City quickly became 1-1 when Diego Costa, a constant menace, equalised with a depressing inevitability.
That Nicolas Otamendi, bearing an uncanny resemblance to an artisan baker, both in appearance and footballing intelligence, was at fault came as no great surprise.
Charging like an over-excited labrador for a ball he was never going to win, it was all too easy for Costa to turn him and fire past Claudio Bravo, who is looking less like an upgrade on Joe Hart with every passing game.
Counter-attacks by Willian and later on Eden Hazard were dispatched equally clinically, and while the scoreline flattered the visitors you had to admire their ruthlessness on the break. Chelsea converted three of their four attempts on target, while City only had Cahill’s own goal to show from 19 attempts in total.
As Guardiola pointed out after the game, City are struggling in both boxes, failing to take their chances at one end while seemingly unable to keep a clean sheet. It’s a fairly major flaw for a team hoping to mount a serious title challenge.
Guardiola, to his credit, refused to blame referee Taylor for the defeat but fans and players alike were understandably aggrieved by some of his decisions, in the first half in particular.
Two reasonable penalty shouts were turned away, but the decision not to punish David Luiz for a blatant body check on Sergio Aguero smacked of cowardice.
Taylor knew he would then have to issue a red card, with Luiz as the last man, and effectively bottled it.
The standard of refereeing in the top flight seems to get progressively worse with each passing season, and that’s saying something.
Still, to solely blame the referee would be churlish and unfair on Chelsea. Antonio Conte has done a remarkable job at Stamford Bridge in a short space of time, no mean feat given their troubles last season, and they must surely now be seen as favourites for the title.
There is still much to admire about Guardiola’s City side, but we feel more like a work in progress, with further time required for the players to adapt to his demanding tactics and methods.
Otamendi is no Jerome Boateng, after all, and Aleksandar Kolarov is no David Alaba. Patience is required at City for Guardiola to mould a team in his image.